It's been six months since the Gender Pay Gap reporting deadline – and we're all familar with the findings. But beyond the reporting, what steps should businesses be taking to get more women into higher paid roles?
On the 4th April 2018, over 10,000 companies provided mandatory data on their gender* pay gap based on six key calculations. By now, you are probably aware of the high-level results: 78% of companies pay men more than women; men are paid more bonuses than women; and men make up the majority of higher paid roles. Nothing too far from our suspicions.
While an alarming 1,557 firms missed the deadline, it’s somewhat heartening and pioneering to see that 296 companies with less than 250 staff voluntarily provided data for either 2017 or 2018, or both.
It’s interesting to see that when picking four of the companies at random, I found each had a gap in favour for men.
So why publish these figures when they don’t have to, and especially when there’s a gap in favour of men? Cynics might assume that some of these might have started their learning curve early in preparation for if/when it becomes mandatory for all businesses.
Narrowing the data down to teams, you can identify the big, significant gaps in certain teams at a localised level.
Ever the optimist, I expect that the majority of these businesses want to hold themselves accountable for the gender pay gap to their staff and customers, and to demonstrate their commitment to closing it.
While there is a question on whether small companies have the capacity, or even an HR team to work on compiling these reports or not, the process and the results are a promise to staff that they take this seriously, and help companies of all sizes learn where to focus their efforts.
A small price to pay and worth the effort, I’d say.
What can we learn?
The use of high-quality and reliable data is essential to reporting these figures. When companies have this sort of data in their hands, they can closely disseminate and analyse what the figures are saying, and where to focus their efforts.
For example, narrowing the data down to teams, you can identify the big, significant gaps in certain teams at a localised level. Other, smaller gaps can sometimes be the way the cookie crumbles with very little reason for a great concern, but where there are wider gaps in the man to woman ratio – in terms of quantity, pay and role – this is much more than coincidental. This then provides you with the beginning steps of addressing why the significant gaps are specific to these localised areas.
These figures are also helping organisations determine who is underpaid and how this happened in the first place, for example questioning if they have been in the same position for a lengthy number of years without any progression in pay or role.
Career planning and trajectories
In Unilever, women earn 9% more than men, with 70% of their manufacturing roles being assigned to men. This could support the fact that those in either extreme of lower and higher paid roles generally influence the gender pay gap the most.
With this in mind, we can begin to look at how many women are in lower paid roles, and how this can affect their career progression. These roles are sometimes referred to as ‘pink collar’ jobs, which are stereotyped roles perceived to be for women, like secretaries, administrators and primary school teachers.
Alongside these sometimes relatively restricted careers, progression-wise, a study has shown that those with part-time roles lead to ‘virtually no wage progression at all’, suggesting that the pay gap gets larger for those that are working part-time.
Diversity training seems to be one of the biggest ‘quick fixes’, and while this correctly draws the focus away from women being the problem, this alone won’t cut it.
As women are statistically more likely to work part-time than men due to childcare, could this be another concealed element to the problem? Not just because working less hours means less pay, but because there are less opportunities for promotion?
Business Insider reports that in many instances women want a more work-family balance over leadership roles, and that a bigger role or title does ‘not hold the same appeal or serve as strong an aspiration’ for them.
However, we need to ask why this doesn’t appeal to them. They may well have career plans, but are these jeopardised with home life and childcare?
It’s essential that career counselling and career conversations with managers are sympathetic to these daily demands, not cookie-cutter advice.
One area to begin with is a formal ‘returnship’ (even if you call it something less jargon-y) for those, especially mothers, returning to work after a long time off.
What else are companies doing?
Diversity training seems to be one of the biggest ‘quick fixes’, and while this correctly draws the focus away from women being the problem, this alone won’t cut it – the issue isn’t necessarily a skills gap, or an awareness gap. The culture needs fixing, as well as process design and management, for example recruitment, promotions, and pay and reward.
For example, promotions are usually determined before the position becomes available; the person is groomed as part of a succession plan to fill a position of higher ‘rank’.
So who are receiving the stretch pieces? Are these mostly being assigned to men who seem to have more capacity because they’re full time?
Or is it being assumed that a woman isn’t confident with her own abilities? Companies are seeing the benefit of coaching women to have more confidence so that they can go for roles they meet, for example, only 70% of the requirements… but this still suggests women are the problem.
A female candidate might have come from an organisation that treats women less favourably and therefore given less opportunities to demonstrate their abilities.
Another quick fix that companies are already adopting is blind recruitment – CVs and application forms for new roles and promotions are anonymised so that any unconscious (or, sadly, conscious) bias is removed from the decision-making process.
Organisations are also conducting structured interviews, with a balanced panel, following a set of questions for each applicant, and based on skills as well as aptitude.
Aptitude is an important element to consider – remember, a female candidate might have come from an organisation that treats women less favourably and therefore given less opportunities to demonstrate their abilities. Aptitude, on the other hand, is theoretical knowledge and enthusiasm for a skill that is just waiting for an outlet to be demonstrated through.
As for staff who are already employed with you, transparent promotion processes need to be redesigned and given actionable objectives and targets for staff to meet. This isn’t a guarantee (‘complete X, Y and Z and congrats! You get a promotion’), but a framework to which staff can work to and align their own work and developmental objectives to, and establish some sort of trajectory.
Use your figures and commit to a plan. Go one step further and get the workforce to contribute to establishing and implementing this plan where possible. This group effort, from both male and female staff, ensures that processes are transparent, fit for purpose, and trustworthy.
If objectives and targets aren’t met, everyone will be able to identify the reasons why, having been part of the development process. It’s important though that this is facilitated by HR and management, and that the terms of the consultation relationship are established, for example why certain ideas will be, or won’t be, taken forward.
*While some people may identify themselves as neither male nor female, for the sake of this article I make reference to genders as only ‘men’ and ‘women’, reflective of the gender pay gap reporting
About Charles Goff-Deakins Assoc CIPD
Charles Goff-Deakins is an associate member of the CIPD with HR and managerial experience from the private and public sectors. He is a senior HR professional, author of the book 'HR Beyond the Theory', HR feature writer, career development blogger and editor, international speaker, and a hungry learner. He also founded the career management blog The Avid Doer.